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‘La La Land’ a musical for everyone

| Wednesday, January 25, 2017

lalaland_webJoseph Han

After the ’50s and ’60s, the American populace let Hollywood know they were tired of the musicals that flooded theaters every weekend.

A slew of films including “Singin’ in the Rain,” “West Side Story,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Sound of Music” eventually wore out the musical genre’s welcome in movie theaters; the thousands who flocked to the ticket booth every weekend wanted change. They were tired of songs and happy endings. They wanted cutting dialogue, intense action and genuine excitement. In other words, they craved every feeling they hadn’t gotten from the musicals that had been dominating cinema for nearly two decades.

And that is exactly what they got. Lightsaber battles replaced moonlight serenades; smashing shark jaws replaced a kiss in the rain; and crude humor replaced poetic romance.

The musicals that truly made Hollywood into Hollywood altogether disappeared. Most films released from the ’70s to the ’00s utilized their scores as background music rather than as integral parts of the plot.

However, that all changed at the turn of the century, when Hollywood made an effort to turn back the clock to its recently dubbed “golden age.” Musicals like “Moulin Rouge!,” “Chicago” and “Les Miserables” were released to critical approval. The Academy and Hollywood Foreign Press showered them with many accolades. One glaring and constant problem, however, stood out among them: Many moviegoers tended to leave the theater disappointed after seeing them.

A recent musical, if you can even call it that, however, has changed that trend. “La La Land,” currently in theaters, has left audiences (and box office profits) stunned across the country.

“La La Land” is the musical that finally found the balance between plot, cinematography and musical numbers.

During songs like “Another Day of Sun” and “Audition,” you might forget that you are not watching a music video. Yet beautifully written and realistic dialogue between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling delves deeper into plot than most musicals.

While “Les Miserables” seemed oversaturated with musical numbers, “La La Land” strikes a marked balance between the natural and the staged. The film employs a mix of sounds from the ’50s, ’80s and our present day to seamlessly marry scenes of whimsy and realism, of singing and speaking.

The story paints a picture of what life is truly like. Aside from breaking into song randomly, the plot is down-to-earth, the characters are real and the ideas the movie evokes are approachable.

Each moviegoer will find something to relate to, whether it’s the desire to save a dying part of their culture, the despair of a passion worn down by rejection or the tendency to imagine what a dead romantic relationship could have been. While the experiences of living under Nazi occupation in Austria, rebelling against the French government and surviving as a cabaret actress in France can distance viewers from their respective musicals, many of us can (and perhaps have) easily imagine buying “La La Land”’s one-way ticket to pursue our dreams.

The part of the movie that truly embodies the name, “La La Land,” is what sets it apart from the herd of other great movies this year — the song and dance.

Justin Hurwitz and Damien Chazelle’s musical genius shines again as it did in 2015’s “Whiplash.” “La La Land” effortlessly embeds more than two dozen songs in the midst of its award-winning script, yet the tracks are so pleasing to the ear that they could easily thrive on their own. They manage to smoothly combine jazz, theater and pop in the blink of the eye.

Arguably, the worst part about the music of “La La Land” is its execution of the songs by Gosling and Stone — two natural actors, not singers. However, this does not turn out to be a negative, but instead only extends the realistic tone given to the movie by the dialogue. Why should an aspiring actress and jazz musician also have voices that could land them Broadway roles?

With “La La Land,” Chazelle has leapfrogged the directing giants in Hollywood, while Hurwitz has earned himself a statue in the pantheon of score writers and Stone and Gosling have managed to make the extraordinary seem ordinary. As Lin Manuel Miranda put it so eloquently, “The musicals that leave us kind of staggering on our feet are the ones that really reach for a lot.” If “La La Land” didn’t leave you staggering on your feet, I suggest you find a new genre.

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About Charlie Kenney

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